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Interview about technology, Dyland and magic roots
dotmusic, 2002-04-09
- Marcie Shaoul


Tue 9 Apr 2002 11:15

He's come a long way baby from the harsh lyrics of twenty years ago. But Elvis Costello will never die, or so it seems. Unless, he informs us, computers take over the world.

With his new album, 'When I was Cruel', hitting the shops Elvis talks to dotmusic about technology, Bob Dylan and magic robots…

Your work has been quoted as being some of the sharpest song writing of any era - how do you react to such statements?

"Never think about it - it's not good to get an inflated ego."

Given your fathers musical background and your Irish roots, how has Irish music and culture influenced your music?

"It's had almost no bearing. There was hardly any Irish music played in our house. I think that my family history has had more of a bearing on my music. There are four generations of musicians in my family. My grandfather was classically trained. Even my mother, who wasn't a musician, worked within the industry. She worked in a record shop before the days of databases. She knew everything about every album, because that was the only way to do it. You couldn't just hook up to the internet and search something out."

Your last two albums were collaborations with other artists such as Burt Bacharach, what affect has working with other artists had?

"It's not really just been the last two albums. I've always worked with people it's just that it's never been credited, just billed as my own. Even when it was Elvis Costello and the Attractions that was a collaboration of sorts. It's other people's opinion as to whether it has been a solo album or collaboration. Working with other artists can be very demanding yet exhilarating at the same time. With Burt Bacharach he is so precise, so much so, that we would argue for hours about one note."

Bands like Starsailor are said to be influenced by you in their vitriolic approach to lyrics. Do you think that a comparison to yourself is a valid one?

"I don't really hear any of my influence in new music. I mean people tell me it's there with a lot of bands, but it can be on the radio but it doesn't occur to me that I should be listening out for it."

Who has influenced you the most dramatically in terms of your song writing?

"So many people. When I first got into music there were fundamental changes going on. The Beatles had emerged on the scene and the song writing model was remade. Also Bob Dylan. He has been an astounding influence on the whole music industry. He changed the face of song writing. His style was so bold for the time and without his brave move forwards, song writing would not have soared and grown like it has done."

What are your opinions of music on the net?

"Well, that there is no such thing as free music. If a carpenter made a chair and then someone went into his workshop and took it without his permission, that's not free, that's stealing. I think that the Napsters of this world only encourage that.

"The web is a shallow medium. The initial excitement of it has worn off and what you find is so much less fascinating than what you want it to be. At the moment the technology is not good enough to put everything you do on the web. Downloads take forever and buffering is terrible, especially without a broadband connection. You can't watch video. It is just so frustrating. I hope I'm in another place before everything is done on computers. I love going to watch a movie in a theatre or buying a CD the whole experience is more than just watching, it's doing.

"When I was younger I used to have a magic robot, a green toy robot on a metal stand which stood on 2 discs and rotated. It was a question and answer game. Point to a question on one side with the robot and he will point to the answer on the other side. It's so random, just like the net. Technology has got a long way to go."

Your new album 'When I Was Cruel' is the first time that you've used sampling and re-mixing techniques, what made you go down the experimental road?

"By putting two things together you can create something really special. Rhythm normally takes priority, but sometimes you just do something that sends the whole normal process into turmoil and things can turn out great. I don't know how it will progress, but to go back to making music without re-mixing and sampling makes everything seem so flat."

You're playing the Astoria on April 16th, performing live what it's all about?

"I love playing live the whole reaction from an audience is different every time. A song changes each time you play it. It takes on a subtle difference depending on the atmosphere but sometimes it can really develop."

Marcie Shaoul


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